Matthean Revisionism : Women, Non-Jews, and Wealth
Matthean Revisionism : Women, Non-Jews, and Wealth

Matthean Revisionism : Women, Non-Jews, and Wealth


The Gospel of Matthew represents positions on women, non-Jews and wealth that reflect a later period than the more primitive gospels of Luke and Mark. H. Philip West, JR. in his paper “A primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew” (New Test. Stud. 14, pp. 80-87) demonstrated the editorial attitude of Matthew is one characterized by a low view of women, a low view of non-Jews, and catering to the rich. In this article, we go review editorial decisions and changes that reflect Matthean revisionist tendencies in these areas. 


Matthew’s poor attitude toward women

Luke favors women. Matthew diminishes them. A review of Matthew, in contrast to the other more primitive embodiments of the Gospel tradition, reveals that the work product exhibits a low attitude toward women. 

Scholars generally can’t explain Matthew’s omission from Mark of the Widow’s Mite included in Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44. This pericope gives us a critical clue for a Matthean pattern on women. 

Luke’s interest in women, especially in widows, has been widely recognized. Most don’t realize Matthew’s restriction of women has a great influence on his editing of Marcan and Lukan material.

Take for example, the Matthean Infancy narrative, in which the angel appears three times to Joseph but never to Mary. According to Matthew, Mary has no words and nothing to ponder in her heart but is only the means of Jesus’ birth. According to Matthew she never rises above the humble obscurity of Jewish womanhood. 

Matthew’s narrative of the Empty Tomb has parallels in  Luke 24:1-11, Mark 16:1-8 and Matt 28:1-10. Matthew takes away the plaintive question of Mark’s women: ‘Who will roll away the stone?’

In comparing the parallels of Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11-12 and Matt 5:31-32, Matthew’s sayings on divorce deny women the right to divorce their husbands. This is a right that Mark takes for granted. Matthew allows men to divorce their wives for unchastity and then remarry. However, Mark gives no ground for anyone to remarry after a divorce. Matthew has radically altered a reported saying of Jesus to conform with the practice of his particular Jewish sect of Christianity. 

Matthew changes pericopes which are adapted from Mark. While in Matthew the women keep their place to watch and serve, it tends to minimize personal detail about them. Compare Luke 4:38-39 and Mark 1:29-31 against Matt 8:14-15; Mark 14:3-9 against Matt 26:6-13; Mark 15:40-41 against Matt 27:55-56.

Matthew does retain the Marcan miracle stories of the woman with the haemorrhage and Jairus’ Daughter, but in doing so he leaves only the barest evidential details. Compare Luke 8:40-56 and Mark 5:21-43 against Matt 9:18-26.

Also, note that Matthew has edited the Marcan pericope of the Syrophoenician Woman to indicate Jesus’ reluctance to help. Compare Mark 7:24-30 with Matt 15:21-28. Jesus does not answer the woman’s plea, and he says he was sent only to Israel’s lost sheep when the disciples want him to send her away. Only her abject humility as indicated by her willingness to come like a dog eating crumbs under the table induce Jesus to help her. Matthew makes both the Syrophoenician. These limited examples within Matthew allow women to be examples of faith but not of righteousness. Matthean exhibits a distinction between faith and righteousness under the Law.

For example, take the pericope of the Widow’s Mite of both Luke 11:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44 which is clearly omitted in Matthew. This was apparently objectionable to Matthew in that the widow has neither served Jesus nor humbled herself before him, but he praises her highly for her deed. Although rabbis rarely would not poor widows or scorned their offerings, many did not consider them capable of righteousness.

Matthew omits several pericopes exhibited in Primitive Lukan material which is motivated by this poor attitude toward women. Such primitive material is even found in Marcions’ Gospel. A first example is Luke 10:38-42, where we see Martha wants Jesus to send Mary back to her work, but he defends her decision to sit and listen. Matthew rejected this pericope and none of his women approach the kind of freedom which Jesus grants Mary here. 

The parable of the unjust judge of Luke 18:1-8 also falls outside the patterns in Matthew’s use of women. None of Matthews’ women are capable of this widow’s relentless and assertive demand for justice. It is hard to imagine the Matthean disposition being one of encouraging his people to approach God, as the widow comes to the judge in Luke 18:1-8.  Moreover, there is no Matthean passage in which God’s action is compared in any way to the behavior of an immoral person like the reluctant and begrudging judge portrayed in Luke. 

A further example of Matthew omitting primitive Lukan material favorable to women is the parable of the Lost Coin of Luke 15:8-10. The central figure is a poor woman who, in a dark lowly house, searches for a lost coin in the dust. The parable is presumably an analogy to illustrate God’s search for lost men. It is consistent with Matthew’s motives, that it includes no passages in which God’s action is compared to such a humble woman’s work.

Two miracle stories in Luke involving women also fall outside the pattern recognizable in Matthew that contains no stories of someone being healed unless he, his relatives, or his friends come humbly to Jesus. As indicated previously, this humble approach is especially noticeable where women are involved.

What also was objectionable to the author of Matthew is the more primitive Lukan stories of the Widow’s Son at Nain of Luke 7:11-17 and the Woman Healed on the Sabbath of Luke 13:10-17. Here are two cases where Jesus approaches the woman involved and performs the cure without any prior display of devotion or humility on her part. 

Matthew’s editing indicates restrictive criteria for women regarding service and devotion. The author of Matthew likely held typical Jewish views on the place of women, finding some of these Lukan pericopes disturbing. The patterns we recognize in his editing reflect the underlying attitudes and prejudices of Matthew and his Church. The instances of the Widow’s Mite and the majority of the primitive Lukan pericopes on women did not fit the pattern of Matthew’s editorial selection. Accordingly, a review of Matthew in contrast to the other more primitive embodiments of the Gospel tradition, indicates the work product exhibits a low attitude toward women. 

Luke and Mark favor women. Matthew diminishes them. Below is a list of instances that reflect poorly on Matthean attitude toward women:

  • Matt 1:1-2:23 vs. Luke 1:1-2:52, depiction of Mary
  • Matt 5:31-32; Matt 19:9 vs. Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12
  • Matt 8:14-15 vs. Luke 4:38-39 and Mark 1:29-31
  • Matthew omits Luke 7:11-17
  • Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26 vs. Luke 8:40-42,49-56 and Mark 5:21-24,35-43
  • Matt 9:20-22 Vs Luke 8:43-48 and Mark 5:25-34
  • Matthew omits Luke 10:38-42
  • Matthew omits Luke 11:27-28
  • Matthew omits Luke 13:10-17
  • Matthew omits Luke 15:8-10
  • Matt 15:21-28 vs. Mark 7:24-30
  • Matthew omits Luke 18:1-8
  • Matthew omits Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44
  • Matt 25:1-13
  • Matt 26:6-13 vs. Mark 14:3-9 and Luke 7:36-50
  • Matt 27:55-56 vs.  Mark 15:40 and Luke 7:1-3
  • Matt 28:1-10 vs. Luke 24:1-11 and Mark 16:1-8

Matthew’s poor attitude toward non-Jews 

Matthew’s editorial behavior in light of Mark and Primitive Luke gives us an indication of the authors’ attitude toward non-Jews.
Scholars have been puzzled by Matthew’s omission of the pericope of the Strange Exorcist of Luke 9:49-50 and Mark 9:38-41. This omission provides an important clue of Matthew’s preference to exclude passages in which lawless persons, or persons without status under the Law, become good examples. As Matthew clearly is a Judaizing document and the author held strict ideas of Law.
Matthew omits the saying common to Mark and Luke ‘he that is not against us is for us’ of Luke 9:50 and Mark 9:40, but he includes a related saying in Luke’ he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters’ of Luke 9:23 and Matt 12:30. It is also evident that Matthew has inverted the saying of Mark 9:41, ‘whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ’ to read in Matt 10:42, ‘whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple. 
These examples of the editorial character of Matthew represent strict legal formal demands.  This perspective attitude can likely account for the addition of Matt 22:11-14 of the parable of the Wedding Garment to the parable of the Great Banquet exhibited in Luke 14:16-24 and Matt 22:1-10. The wedding garment of Matthew symbolizes righteousness, and it presents that as the criteria for entering the kingdom. Matthew puts the highest embodiment of the Law over all other factors, including the interpolation of Matt 5:19 that those who would relax the least of these commandments would be least in the Kingdom.
Thus, Matthew adds various anti-charismatic verses, including Matt 7:13-23.  Matthew’s anti-charismatic tendencies are exhibited further in Matt 6:7-8 and elsewhere in chapter 6 where the author portrays Jesus as prescribing that prayer, fasting, and giving should be done in secret. 
In using those outside the Law as negative examples, the author of Matthew typically demonstrates his rejection of them. According to Matthew, believers are not to be like Gentiles (Matt 6:7-8) and those who are to be regarded no better than tax collectors (Matt 5:46-47)
Despite Mark making no reference to Samaritans and Gentiles, Matthew’s comments establish a clear anti-gentile pattern. Matt 15:24, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ is an obvious insertion into a pericope taken from Mark. This attitude is even more explicit in the saying of Matt 10:5-6, ‘Do not take the gentile road, and do not enter a Samaritan city, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’
It is unlikely the case that both anti-Samaritan and pro-Samaritan pericopes in the Gospels are both authentic. Jesus either refused to deal with Samaritans and commanded his disciples to do the same (as the Later tradition of Matthew attests) or Jesus dealt with them and allowed his disciples to do so (according to the more primitive traditions of Luke and Mark). Only Matthew explicitly opposes a mission to outsiders or makes implicit references of an anti-Samaritan or anti-Gentile nature. Although antagonism between Jews and Samaritans is seen in Luke, it features accounts of Jesus deliberately establishing contact with them. Luke has a narrative recalling various meetings as well as an in which the ancient feud is a central part of the context. Few scholars doubt the authenticity of the parable of the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:29-37, the very conception which arises from the fact that the Samaritans had no status under Jewish Law. Yet, this Samaritan had fulfilled the Law. In contrast, Matthew’s opposition to the Samaritans is exhibited only in isolated sayings apart from narrative or parables. 
It is easy to see how Matthew’s anti-Samartian and anti-Gentile sayings could have sprung up in opposition toward ministries incorporating Samaritan and Gentile missions. Matthew emerges from a Jewish sect, as is evident by the editorial omissions and modifications of any Samaritan or Gentile material.
Luke and Matthew provide contrasting views regarding justification for tax collectors. The parable of Luke 18:9-14 of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector doesn’t fit with the Matthean notion of righteousness under the Law. The easy justification of the tax collector doesn’t fit with Matthew’s theological agenda. Accordingly, the implication that a humble request of the tax collector, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ would be sufficient for the tax collector to go home justified is counter to the Matthean notion of rigorousness. 
Similar elements are featured in the Zacchaeus story of Luke 19:1-10 in which he declares that he will pay back all his fraudulent gains fourfold. Jesus declared  to a long-time chief tax collector, ‘Today salvation has come to this house since he also is a son of Abraham.’ Jesus’ declaration indicates that he is a son of Abraham by faith based on this bare declaration of penitence alone, although he has not actually done any righteous thing according to Matthean standards. Although Matthew allows for sins to be forgiven quickly, it maintains that salvation can only be found in the quest for righteousness under the Law. 
Matthew has not, however, eliminated all favorable references to Gentiles, tax collectors, and other immoral people. Whenever it praises them it is for their ‘faith’. In various contexts, the Syrophoenician Woman or the Centurion may demonstrate a faith that puts the disciples to shame. Yet according to Matthew, these are outsiders who must gather the crumbs under the Jewish table. For Matthew, it is only Jewish Christians who have inherited the promise. The Gentiles remain outsiders and strangers to the Law, as do most women.
The following editorial actions are reflective of Matthew’s attitude of an anti-Samaritan and anti-Gentile character. 
  • Matt 8:5-13 vs. Luke 7:1-10 and Luke 8:28-30
  • Matt 9:9-13 vs. Luke 5:27-32 and Mark 2:13-17
  • Matthew omits Luke 9:49-50 and Mark 9:38-41
  • Matthew omits Luke 9:51-56
  • Matthew omits Luke 10:29-37
  • Matthew omits Luke 11:5-8
  • Matthew omits Luke 16:1-9
  • Matthew omits Luke 17:11-19
  • Matthew omits Luke 18:1-8
  • Matthew omits Luke 18:9-14
  • Matthew omits Luke 19:1-10
  • Addition of Matt 18:17
  • Addition of Matt 21:28-32

Matthew caters to the rich

G. D. Kilpatrick has argued that Matthew was compiled for use in a wealthy urban Jewish Church and showed that Matthew tends to modify its source material in the direction of making it more relevant to the rich. (G. D. Kirkpatrick, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, pp. 124-5) 
Matthew exhibits technical competence in its editing. In some places, it appears that Matthew has softened derogatory references to the rich, including Matt 6:19 vs. Luke 11:33 and Matt 11:7-11 and Luke 7:24-28. 
The Beelzebul controversy of Luke 11:17-23, Mark 3:23-30 and Matt 12:25-37 is an example where Matthew’s close editing reflects his attitude toward wealth. Luke’s reading is more authentic than Matthew’s in the material they share. For example, the instance of  ‘by the finger of God’ is generally regarded as prior to ‘by the spirit of God’. With respect to the rich, the crucial difference in the examination is that Matthew has a preference for Mark’s parable of the Strong man over Luke’s (Compare Luke 11:21-22, Mark 3:27, and Matt 12:29). Considering that Matthew has Lukan verses immediately before and after the implementation of the Strong Man from Mark, suggest that the author knew the Lukan parable as well. Wealth is apparently the reason he chooses to follow Mark. The parable in Luke describes Beelzebul as a strong rich man who guards his palace and possessions in peace until a stronger one seizes his armor and distributes the spoil. The parable in Luke would be perceived as equating riches with evil, but the Marcan version of the strong man would avoid this association. 
Matt 25:31-46 contains a parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Since it appears to demand charity for the poor, and both threaten hell for refusal, it would also seem that the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus of Luke 16:19-31 would also warrant a place in Matthew since it has the same theme of charity and threat of hell. The likely reason for the omission of the parable in Matthew is that judgment falls harshly on the excessively wealthy man, while sympathy is given to the poor man. The parable of the Sheep and the Goats is much more fitting for Matthew, since the judgment has nothing to do with the distinction between the rich and the poor. 
In conclusion, West observed…
“Matthew calls for charity, but he shuns pericopes which equate possessions with evil or which take it for granted that the rich are wicked.” (H.P. West Jr., “A Primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew,” New Test. Stud. 14, p.87)
The view of Matthew with respect to possessions can be discerned from the editorial actions of the author in consideration of the following passages. 
  • Matt 5:3,6 vs. Luke 6:20-21
  • Matt 5:46-47 vs. Luke 6:32-36
  • Matt 6:19-21 vs. Luke 7:33-34
  • Matt 10:37-38 vs. Luke 14:26-27
  • Matt 11:7-11 vs. Luke 7:24-28
  • Matt 12:25-27 vs. Luke 11:17-23 and Mark 3:23-30
  • Matthew omits Luke 12:13-15
  • Matthew omits Luke 12:16-21
  • Matthew omits Luke 14:7-14
  • Matthew omits Luke 14:28-33
  • Matthew omits Luke 16:14-15
  • Matthew omits Luke 16:19-31
  • Matthew omits Luke 18:9-14
  • Matt 19:16-22 vs. Luke 18:18-23 and Mark 10:17-22
  • Matt 19:23-40 vs. Luke 18:24-30 and Mark 10:23-31
  • Matt 24:45-51 vs. Luke 12:42-6
  • Matt 25:14-30 vs. Luke 19:11-27
  • Matt 26:6-13 vs. Mark 14:3-9 and Luke 7:36-50
Some might question if the author of Matthew saw and omitted the peculiar Lukan material. They might attribute the material from a documentary source of a separate tradition from the source common to Matthew and Luke.  However, such a source would be hard to imagine, considering what that collection of material that source would necessarily exhibit. It would be an absurd collection unlike anything else known. The collection would contain virtually no independent sayings and comprise mostly striking parables. All of its material would display a particular interest in making moral examples out of persons without Jewish status, or at every opportunity, would attack the rich and their possessions. It is far more reasonable to see Primitive Luke as a source common to Matthew and Luke than to presume distinct sources to account for the materials common to Matthew and for those materials particular to Luke. 
Reference: H.P. West Jr., “A Primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew,” New Test. Stud. 14, p.80-87